Venezuelan officials allege groups plotted violent attacks against recall vote, president

Friday, July 30th 2004, 9:22 pm
By: News On 6

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Authorities accused radical groups in separate anti-government plots Friday _ planning to use explosives to disrupt an upcoming presidential recall vote and a fighter jet to attack the country's leader.

Interior Minister Luis Rincon said radicals were seeking to use plastic explosives stolen from a navy base to create chaos during the recall against President Hugo Chavez.

``There are people here, and they aren't favored in the polls, who want a scenario of violence,'' Lucas Rincon said. ``They think it will change the result of the vote.''

Authorities have yet to recover some 138 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive and 80 detonators that were reported stolen July 17 from a navy base in the coastal city of Puerto Cabello, 70 miles west of Caracas.

Rincon said that Chavez opponents, including dissident military officers who have been discharged, could use the explosives in a ``subversive plan'' to create chaos before or during the Aug. 15 recall referendum.

A common variety of military explosive, C-4 was used in the bombings of the Colombian and Spanish diplomatic missions in Caracas last year. Chavez blamed the embassy bombings on a group of more than 100 former military officers who declared themselves in rebellion against the government in 2002.

Rincon said authorities were questioning roughly 60 soldiers who were at the base at the time of the July 17 heist. Two suspects have been arrested in the case, but Rincon did not provide any details.

In another allegation, Miguel Rodriguez, director of the federal police, said that roughly 100 Colombian paramilitaries arrested at a ranch near Caracas on May 9 formed part of a plot to kill Chavez that involved opposition radicals, Cuban exiles in Florida and 10 dissident military officers.

``They wanted to kill the president,'' Rodriguez said, echoing earlier claims by the government and by Chavez himself that Washington-backed opposition leaders hatched the plot. Washington denies the claims.

Venezuela's opposition leaders dismiss the arrests as a government-staged ploy to turn attention away from the recall referendum. Colombian diplomats have said many of the suspects were duped into entering Venezuela with promises of work.

Venezuela is deeply divided between those who see Chavez as a champion of the poor and those who argue the accuse him of becoming increasingly authoritarian. To be recalled, more citizens must vote against Chavez than the nearly 3.8 million who re-elected him in 2000.

Rodriguez claimed that ringleaders wanted to use a Venezuelan air force F-16 fighter jet to bomb the presidential palace while Chavez would be there broadcasting his weekly program, ``Hello President.'' The Colombian irregulars were supposed to have seized the area around the palace, Rodriguez said.

Some detainees are suspected of having ties to Colombia's outlawed right-wing militias.

Most of those detained face rebellion charges. Thirty-three were granted amnesty in exchange for testimony, and a handful of the detained, all minors, were returned to Colombia.

Chavez has claimed on several occasions that Cuban exiles in Florida want to kill him because of his close friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.